Graeme McDowell and Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland took a four-stroke lead at the European Tour’s Andalucia Masters on Saturday after a windy third round sent scores soaring.
McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, shot a 1-over 72, while Maybin had a 70 to reach 6 under. Conditions were so difficult at Valderrama that only six players were under par at the end of a day that began with 13 in minus territory.
Damien McGrane of Ireland shot a 70 to reach 2 under and grab a share of third with Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, who had a 71.
McDowell squandered a good opportunity to take a big lead into the fourth round and boost his bid for a third title this year. He had a two-stroke lead at the 18th when he misjudged the strength of a crosswind, put his second shot in a greenside bunker and ended up with a double bogey.
"Standing on the fairway I thought about having a comfortable lead and what happened was just careless," McDowell said. "But there was enough good golf out there to make me happy. I am going into the Sunday afternoon with a chance to win a golf tournament and that's where I want to be."
Maybin struggled early, but stayed in contention for his first European Tour victory. Beginning the third round two shots behind McDowell, he opened with two bogeys before responded with two straight birdies. He added another birdie at No. 9 and finished with nine straight pars.
Maybin knows he'll need his best to beat McDowell.
"Graeme is probably the hottest golfer in the world at the moment," he said.
Saturday’s developments means that Lee Westwood is poised to become Europe's first world No. 1 golfer since Nick Faldo was toppled by Greg Norman in 1994.
The Englishman's Ryder Cup teammate Martin Kaymer continued to labor well off the pace at Valderrama, and barring a staggering turnaround on Sunday he will not achieve the top-two finish he requires to assume the top spot himself. Kaymer must win or share second place with no more than one other player if he, rather than the absent Westwood, is to succeed Tiger Woods when the American's 281-week reign ends on Monday.
Having started his tournament with rounds of 72 and 74, Saturday's 70 was a welcome improvement for Kaymer, but he nine shots off the pace and realistically he needed to shoot around 66 to move into contention.
Sergio Garcia showed encouraging form with a round of 69 to move into a share of fifth place with Thomas Bjorn, who had four early birdies and four bogeys in a 71.
On level par for the tournament, where low-scoring has been difficult all week, stand American Anthony Kang, whose 68 was not bettered in Round 3, alongside India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Holland's Robert-Jan Derksen, who both went round in 72. Sweden's Niclas Fasth dropped from third to 13th after following Friday's 66 with a 76, but still he was one shot better off for the tournament than Kaymer.
Despite winning four times this season, Kaymer will almost certainly have to wait for his chance to become the second German to top the world rankings. His countryman Bernhard Langer was No. 1 when the rankings were launched in 1986, conceding the position three weeks later to Seve Ballesteros.
For Westwood, reaching No. 1 will be a triumph many feared he would never achieve.
When Woods began his latest stint at No. 1, Westwood stood 35th and was on the comeback trail after slumping from fourth in 2001 to outside the top 250 less than two years later. He has not won a tournament this season but has had second places at three tournaments, including the Masters and British Open.
The 37-year-old is currently out of action due to an injured calf, but intends to return at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai next week.